Final DNC decision nears

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The Senate is expected to discuss making the Do-Not-Call Registry list permanent this week, a measure that already passed in the US House of Representatives on December 11.

The Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007 (S.781), introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in March, would eliminate the automatic removal of telephone numbers registered on the Federal DNC registry. Currently, the DNC Registry law, which went into effect in 2003, requires that consumers renew their participation in the registry every five years.

The new bill requires that the Federal Trade Commission remove disconnected and reassigned numbers periodically. To date, approximately 145 million people have signed up for the DNC list.

The measure has gotten mixed reaction from the industry. Gary Pudles, president and CEO of teleservice provider AnswerNet Networks, is skeptical of the process.

“With all the different carriers and numbers, there's really no way to keep up with whether a number is active or inactive — unless you're going to require every [telecommunications] company in America to report ons and offs into a central database,” he said.

Tim Searcy, CEO of the American Teleservices Association, also questioned the manner in which the law may be enacted.

“We're OK with the list being permanent just as long as they are showing that they have a process in place, where they are purging and updating the list regularly,” he said in a statement.

These bills are frustrating to many telemarketers.

“It really is unfair to merchants who want to sell through this channel,” Pudles said. “This is an example of a minority of people who want to suppress this channel in any way they can.”

The FTC argues that the amendments made to the bill are largely what consumers want.

“Consumers have said, ‘we want our numbers to be permanently on the registry and we want the power to decide who's going to be calling us,'” said Mitch Katz, public affairs specialist at the FTC. “That's what making the numbers permanent will allow them to do going forward.”

The Direct Marketing Association agrees that the effort will strengthen the direct marketing industry and reputation as a whole.

“We're really pleased that they've done this, and we've supported this bill, the way it was written and the way it was passed,” said Jerry Cerasale, DMA's SVP of government affairs. “I don't think that it will have any significant change on telemarketers, from what they're doing today, if this bill became law tomorrow. If the list is more accurate, we can improve [list] hygiene, which will be a plus for consumers and for telemarketers.”

The Do-Not-Call Implementation Act (S.1655, HR 395) was ratified on September 25, 2003 and signed into law by President Bush. Additional legislation giving the FTC power to collect fees to implement and enforce the law was also enacted. Fines of up to $10,000 for each violation involving calls made to prohibited telephone numbers can be collected by the FTC.

 “There hasn't been a wide scale disregard for the law. Why make something that's already working harder for everyone?” Pudles asked. “What this does is keep good offers and good telemarketers away from people who are willing to listen to their pitches who are interested in goods and services being offered through telemarketing.”

Over the last five years the FTC has filed more than 34 law enforcement actions against individuals and companies that allegedly have violated the DNC Registry provisions. In total, more than $16 million in civil penalties have been awarded.

Even as speculation on the future of telemarketing continues, Pudles affirmed the results of the medium.

“With this legislation, ultimately every number will wind up on the list,” Pudles said. “But, the fact that the channel still exists proves that it's still a successful tool for marketing.”

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